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Government Inspector

Because of my clothes and my Petersburg ways they're bowing and scraping and indulging my every desire. — Khlestakov
Government Inspector
Julian Barratt as The Mighty Boosh
(Photo: Dan Burn Forti)
Nikolai Gogol's evergreen 1836 comedy The Government Inspector is both a biting satire on human vice and an exuberant farce relishing life's absurdities. The premise is classically simple and its development beautifully executed. The civic dignitaries of a small town in the back of beyond in Russia mistake a penniless clerk passing through from St Petersburg for an undercover government inspector. Thrown into panic that their corruption and exploitation of the local people will be discovered they give him a cleaned up tour of the municipal institutions, while the mayor gives him lavish hospitality in his own home, where he gleefully accepts all bribes offered.

David Harrower's thoroughly contemporary, colloquial new version —minus the definite article — is full of verve and raciness in depicting the characters' self-serving motives. Gogol's exposure of hypocrisy and pretension are given full entertainment value, even if some subtlety is lost.

Richard Jones's staging emphasizes the surreal elements of Gogol's play, with its bizarre humour taking on a hallucinogenic quality. It starts with the mayor having a nightmare of being pursued by a projection of the word "INCOGNITO" and two huge black rats, while the mood becomes increasingly fevered as the anxiously flattering townspeople try to buy off the visitor. Jones's distinctive style of choreographing group movement is put to good effect here, with the heads of hospital, school and courthouse nicely differentiated in eccentric appearance and mannerisms. Occasionally the production overstrains for laughs, though there also dark hints of anti-Semitism and police brutality.

Miriam Buether's set (through which the audience enters) depicts the outside of the mayor's imposing house on a painted cloth, raised to reveal an interior full of portraits of him hunting and in uniform, even on the backs of chairs - this is a town ruled by a tin-pot dictator. Nicky Gillibrand's wonderfully garish costumes make a cartoonish impression, while Mimi Jordan Sherin's sudden green lighting changes add to the stylization and David Sawer's comically exaggerated sound effects give local colour.

As Khlestakov, the humble civil servant with gambling debts, the dapper, carrot-haired Kyle Soller gives us a brilliantly Dickensian portrayal of a fantasist whose belief that he is superior to his circumstances miraculously comes true in his feting by the provincials. The Mighty Boosh's Julian Barratt is extremely funny as the oleaginous, pompous mayor, sweating with fear and taking out his stress on those below him. Donn Mackichan is also hilarious as his vulgar, socially affected wife, who competes with her ever-more scantily clad daughter (played vampishly on tottering heels by Louise Brealey) for the attentions of their metropolitan guest.

Judging by the audience reception on opening night, the Young Vic surely have a big hit on their hands.

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Government Inspector
Written by Nikolai Gogol in a new version by David Harrower
Directed by Richard Jones

Starring: Kyle Soller, Julian Barratt, Donn Mackichan, Louise Brealey
With: Stephen Beard, Jack Brough, Fergus Craig, Buffy Davis, Callum Dixon, Amanda Lawrence, Bruce MacKinnon, Eric MacLennan, Simon Mùller, Graham O'Mara, David Webber
Design: Miriam Buether
Costumes: Nicky Gillibrand
Lighting: Mimi Jordan Sherin
Sound: David Sawer
Running time: two hours and forty-five minutes (including interval)
Box Office: 020 7922 2922
Booking to 9 July 2011
Reviewed by Neil Dowden based on June 9th performance at Young Vic, 66 The Cut, London SE1 8LZ (Tube: Waterloo/Southwark)
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